In Brief

French elections: Francois Fillon vows to remain in race

Republican presidential candidate 'throws down the gauntlet' to party leaders at mass rally in Paris

French politician Francois Fillon has vowed to press on as the Republican presidential candidate, addressing a mass rally that attracted thousands of supporters in Paris.

"I am attacked from all sides and with all consciousness I must listen to you, listen to this massive crowd that pushes me forward, but I must also ask myself about those who doubt me and jump ship," he said. "They bear an immense responsibility, as do I."

Following claims of nepotism and corruption, senior members of his party have "fought to oust [Fillon] as their candidate", says Reuters, with former prime minister Alain Juppe seen as the most likely replacement.

Fillon admitted last week that he was being formally investigated over claims that he had paid his wife and two children hundreds of thousands of euros for jobs that apparently did not exist.

The Republicans are due to hold crisis talks on his candidacy later today.

By speaking out, Fillon has "thrown down the gauntlet" to party leaders, says the BBC's Hugh Schofield: "To the party he is saying: Drop me if you will. But if you do, know that you may also lose millions of voters who - like the people who have turned out here in Paris - chose me because of my ideas."

Meanwhile, outgoing French President Francois Hollande has said his "ultimate duty" is to ensure France is not won over by far-right National Front leader Marine Le Pen.

'Fake job' scandal threatens to derail Francois Fillon

1 February

French police have raided the country's parliament building in an investigation into the misuse of public funds that threatens to derail the presidential hopes of Francois Fillon.

The conservative, who has based his campaign on his squeaky clean reputation and promises of a tough austerity programme, was favourite to win the presidency until last week, when satirical newspaper Le Canard alleged his British-born wife Penelope had been paid taxpayers' money for a "fake job".

The couple were questioned on Monday over allegations she was paid €500,000 (£426,000) as his parliamentary assistant during his time in the Senate, "while in fact steering clear of his political activities", says the Daily Telegraph.

An opinion poll on Sunday showed rival independent centrist Emmanuel Macron had overtaken Fillon ahead of the first round of voting in April. 

In another boost to Macron, a group of moderate Socialist politicians wrote in Le Monde newspaper yesterday that they could not back their party's hard-left candidate, Benoit Hamon.

It's "the clearest sign yet that his appointment could tear the party apart, with some lawmakers tempted to join the Macron camp", says The Independent.

Marine Le Pen, leader of the far-right National Front, has also made headlines by refusing an order from the European Parliament to return more than £250,000 it says she has misspent.

EU lawmakers accuse two parliamentary assistants of wrongly taking a salary from the parliament while working for Le Pen's party in France.

"The money the European Parliament wants returned was used to pay the salary of Catherine Griset, a close friend of Ms Le Pen as well as her cabinet director," the BBC says.

Le Pen told Reuters the claim was made "without proof and without waiting for a judgement from the court action I have started".

Branding the EU's move a "unilateral decision taken by political opponents", she also sought to capitalise on the scandal for her conservative opponent.

She said: "To pay the money back, I'd have had to have received the funds, but my name isn't Francois Fillon."

Le Pen had until midnight last night to return the funds. Having failed to do so, she now faces having her pay and allowances as a member of the European Parliament docked by up to €11,000 (£9,400) a month. 

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